I’m writing from England. Your Godmother, home of your brothers. I’m writing to implore wisdom on your part, that you do not forsake what you have in your Second Amendment of the American Constitution:
“A well-regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.”
I do this because I love you. You remain the only nation as yet successfully founded on philosophy, and that document I mentioned is one of the purest and most sublime expressions of Enlightenment thinking that ever was put to paper. We share heritage, language – jokes, prosperity and suffering. So, lend me your ear.
When you were in the quickening stage of life, guns were the means by which you survived. You hunted, defended, and by all accounts (though to what degree we may disagree) entertained the human propensity for malevolence with them. You feel shame and guilt for the latter now. Maybe because you take your admitted exceptionalism too seriously. The eighteenth century was one like the eighteen beforehand, in that the right of conquest ruled, and your behaviour was not notable for its brutality.
As you entered the birth canal, the gun became the means by which you set yourself free. We wanted you as our vassal but you were too bold and independent for us to hold in subjugation. You shrugged off our taxes and our laws and your servitude, Remember how you used to sing:
“We fired our guns and the British kept a-comin' There wasn't nigh as many as there was a while ago We fired once more and they began to runnin' On down the Mississippi to the Gulf of Mexico”
We did! And when you severed our cord, you lit a fire of liberty that enraptures the world still.
Upon your first breath though you had the prudence to understand that yours would be a precarious privilege. Power corrupts and expands when given opportunity and your Republic would only last “if you can keep it”. Your first line of defence was to be your voice. The second, your firearms.
Free states do close down. Liberty can secede to tyranny. It happened to Russia in the 1910s. It happened in Italy in the 1920s. It happened in Germany in the 1930s. More recently, it’s happened in Indonesia, Nicaragua, Chile, Uruguay, Paraguay and Guatemala... It can happen to you.
In many ways, you’ve been closing down for a long time. In her treatise, ‘The End of America – Letter of Warning to a Young Patriot’, Naomi Wolf identified ten steps to the closing down process:
Invoke an external and internal threat – The threats may have a basis in reality – but they will be hyped, and they will be the excuse for limiting freedom. On September 11th, 2001, America was the tragic victim of a terrifying external threat – on October 26th, 2001 the unconstitutional Patriot Act was signed into law by President Bush. This law authorized indefinite detention of immigrants, permission for law enforcement to search homes and businesses without the owner or occupants’ consent or knowledge, and expanded powers of surveillance for the FBI and NSA to search telephone, email, and financial records without court orders.
Establish secret prisons – Guantanamo Bay detention camp was set up in 2002 during George W. Bush’s “War on Terror”. Initially considered outside of U.S. jurisdiction, the prison operates in breach of the Fifth and Eighth Amendments and the Geneva Conventions (until 2006 when it was ruled that prisoners were entitled to minimal protections). People have been held indefinitely without realistic prospects of prosecution and current and former detainees have reported torture.
Develop a paramilitary force – More commercial soldiers than regular soldiers have been active in Iraq. Private military companies represent a growth industry who “can’t be held accountable to the Pentagon’s Uniform Code of Military Justice, because its soldiers are civilians. But they can’t be sued in civil court either – because they are part of the U.S. military”.
Surveillance of ordinary citizens – It’s no secret that U.S. citizens are potentially surveilled to an extraordinary extent. Mass surveillance does not lead to more effective intelligence gathering but tyrannical states may employ it to chill their citizens freedom of speech (and, thus, thought).
Infiltrate citizens groups – In a 2006 report, the ACLU discovered that Californian police had infiltrated antiwar protests, political rallies, and other constitutionally protected gatherings illegally. Such stories have broken repeatedly since then.
Arbitrarily detain and release citizens – The National Defense Authorization Act 2011, signed into effect by President Barack Obama, gave the president the right to detain U.S. citizens without charge or trial indefinitely under Clause 21.
Target key individuals – In 2007 there were 75,000 people on a list requiring extra screening at airports, including journalists, activists, and politicians who have been critical of the White House. Similarly to mass surveillance, this provides no security for but (when people are detained and potentially strip-searched by armed guards) it may successfully inhibit them, as well as disrupting legal activities that may challenge state power.
Restrict the press – “In all dictatorships, targeting the free press begins with political pressure – loud, angry campaigns for the news to be represented in a way that supports the group who seeks dominance." Of course, this quote brings to mind President Donald Trump’s ‘Fake News’ stance – and that does create a disturbing ambience, even if it contains a kernel of truth. However, under President Barack Obama more concerning developments occurred – such as the intimidation of Glenn Greenwald (by U.K. state forces working with U.S. state forces) in retaliation for his publishing of sensitive information obtained by Edward Snowden on the scale of surveillance in the U.S.
Cast criticism as “espionage” and dissent as “treason” – Both Edward Snowden and Julian Assange of WikiLeaks have been threatened under the Espionage Act. Passed during World War One to silence critics of the war, those convicted under the legislation can be hung. It’s been utilized more in the last decade than all of the years between it being established in 1917 and 2007.
Subvert the rule of law – It may look like a military coup, it may look like incremental legislative changes, but during the Barack Obama presidency it looked like it would come in the shape of the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) agreement. TTIP (the negotiations for which were halted by President Donald Trump) was on course to sublimate the sovereign power of democratic governments by regulating trade. Concerns about job losses, safety, environmental protection, and predatory business practices would have been out of the hands of state powers. With everything organized according to this agreement that took place behind closed doors and reportedly influenced by influential lobbyists.
Can you appreciate how serious your situation is? The rumours of your fascistic shift are not merely hearsay – the falsehood is only that it started with Trump.
We lost our guns. Incrementally. Bit by bit, legislation essentially took away our rights to keep and bear arms. It arguably works for us. We’re a small island where such regulations can be enforced far more successfully than places with geography more like yours. Our police are largely unarmed, though this is changing. There are legally owned shotguns in the countryside but in our cities, guns are concentrated in the hands of the state and criminals. Still, even our criminals have less access to guns than your criminals – and this doesn’t seem to matter with London competing with New York over homicide rates of late. What does seem to matter, to you, are rates of legal gun ownership. The states with the highest rates of gun ownership have some of the lowest crime rates in your country. We’re not getting our guns back anytime soon and that might be too bad for us – but you should continue to be that beacon of light shielded from being snuffed out by your Constitution and Bill of Rights. What you have now is precious and you must hold on to it for as long as you possibly can, knowing that [in the words of John Adams] “a constitution of government, once changed from freedom, can never be restored. Liberty, once lost, is lost forever.”
Besides, it’s currently two minutes to midnight. We’re a single catastrophic event away from total anarchy – the collapse of your dollar, the overdue super-eruption in Yellowstone, a pandemic disease... Something’s going to happen and when it does, guns will be your means of survival once more. Keep them close.
'Letter of Warning to a U.S. Patriot'
William Costello (Center-Right)
Elizabeth Hobson (Libertarianism)
Elizabeth Hobson is an exceptional writer and I admire the romance with which she writes and consider myself luck to count her amongst my friends. I agree with her that America is indeed an exceptional country. How romantic we view this exceptionalism to be is where we may diverge in our thinking.
On reading my friend’s piece, I feel it romanticizes America as exceptional in a way that doesn’t address the cost of just how exceptional America is comparing to the rest of the world in relation to gun violence. Ms. Hobson refers to Americans taking their exceptionalism too seriously…I fear in this instance, she is not taking their exceptionalism seriously enough.
I refer to some of the statistics pointed to in my own piece.
- Americans make up 4.4% of the global population yet they own 42% of the word’s guns
- Americans account for 1/3 of global mass shooters but not 1/3 of the crime
- America’s Firearm homicide rate is 25x higher
- Suicide rate is 8x higher
- When adjusted for population, the only country that has a higher rate of mass shootings than America is Yemen.
- Yemen has the world’s second highest rate of gun ownership…no prizes for guessing who has the highest.
Precious beacon of light indeed.
Ms. Hobson appears to suggest that despite our lack of guns in the UK, we may have a similar problem on our hands regarding the knife crime epidemic in London.
Is it really true that London’s murder rate is now higher than New York’s?
Yes, but only if you look at two particular months.
The Metropolitan Police has confirmed that it recorded 15 murders in February, while in the same month the New York Police Department recorded 11 killings. In March London also had more murders: 22 to New York’s 21.
But as soon as you start to look beyond the relatively narrow confines of those two months, the statistics start to come out in London’s favour.
The year-on-year statistics are still firmly suggestive of the UK capital being the less murderous city.
There were 116 murders in London in 2017, fewer than half New York’s annual total of 290.
In the calendar year of 2016 there were 334 murders in New York comparing to 102 murders in London.
Ms. Hobson appears to lament the incremental loss of guns here in the UK and appears at times to be almost jealous of the current situation in America…or rather deems it preferable to an alternative future she depicts.
America, Totalitarianism or Dystopia?
I feel as if Ms. Hobson defends the right to unregulated access to guns as though the only viable alternative is that guns are “taken away” whole sale or an anarchistic, Mad Max style dystopia. Were this the only alternative, I might find myself in her Libertarian company…but it’s not. It can’t be. Where is the confidence in the constitution to prevent such excesses of tyranny from government? Or is it only the second amendment and guns that can prevent this descent into chaos?
I would ask whether she thinks the current status quo is quite tenable? It is easier to defend the current status quo against such dystopia…in which, I’d argue, guns being everywhere might not be the best idea either, much harder to suggest an alternative or even point to an explanation for America’s undisputable malaise of gun violence.
To act in good faith towards my friend, perhaps our thinking might have realigned to some extent around the discussion of legal gun ownership. Our conversation will go on sans word countThe Constitution Writer’s Block.
The constitution was meant to be a living document, designed to reinterpreted. If the constitution can be reinterpreted in such a way as to find room for two men to marry (can’t imagine that’s what the founding fathers had in mind) then why can’t it be reinterpreted to find more sensible gun regulations? I urge Ms. Hobson and policy makers to make their choice between conversation and violence, to use, as she eloquently puts it, “their first line of defence”, in their words, to reinterpret the second amendment in a way that satisfies a right to gain gun ownership alongside a more sensible approach to regulation. The task is not beyond us.